As CEO of Yoga Yoga, the largest Yoga organization in Texas, Rich Goldstein (Raghurai) has explored the boundaries of Yoga and business in a unique way. He has championed the business of Yoga and applications of Yoga in healthcare as a matter of heart and health. In this interview he talks about this and why he believes we are living in a time of abundant opportunities to share the wisdom of Yoga.
“Do your work in the peace of Yoga and, free from selfish desires be not moved in success or failure. Yoga is evenness of mind—a peace that is ever the same.” —Bhagavad Gita
Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): How do we reconcile Yoga and business?
Rich Goldstein (RG): I think it’s a useful, dynamic tension because most of us don’t really have the option not to work. We’re householders. We have very few options to walk around in a loincloth these days. This reality requires a different kind of yogi. We all have this issue of how do we do that? I found Yoga when I was in my 20s, which was thirty years ago. I was working hard in my family’s business in southern Florida and my back hurt. So, I began Bikram Yoga and wanted to do it more, but I had to do my job. I kept finding this dynamic tension between Yoga and my job.
Overwhelmingly, the work environments we are in aren’t conducive to health—they require productivity and limited humanity. If you have to make a choice in the work environment—though this is slowly shifting—your boss is going to want you to choose your work, not your life. I write a blog, “The Yogic Edge” and that edge for me is the opportunity to not commit to having to choose between your life or your work, because there’s no difference between them—your life is your work. In my belief system, people should choose work through which they can contribute. If we all refused to work in environments that were not nurturing, that were not doing positive work for our society, there would be more of the places that are nurturing.
IYM: What if you want to be a Yoga teacher but can’t afford to leave your job?
RG: That’s where skills and strategy come in. If you want to maintain a lifestyle where you can have a home, take a vacation, pay for your kid’s education, you are not going to leave your $40,000 a year job and start teaching private classes here and there. You can do that if you are the very rare person who has the finances to do that. A large percentage of Yoga studios are actually hobbies, supported by husbands. It’s not what many of us want, but that’s the case. So how do you skillfully navigate being one of 10,000 new Yoga teachers this year and make a living? You have to learn to market, sell and network.
You have to learn basic business skills. Develop a strategy for moving from having a job you don’t want to do to a job you do want. If you want to become skillful about gardening, you need to read books, talk to people, visit greenhouses, study and practice. It’s harder to become a skillful Yoga teacher in the marketplace, so you have to work hard to fulfill this goal.
In many ways there’s a sense in the Yoga community that, if you just do Yoga, it will all work out. In my experience that is true, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that your business will be successful—it just means it will all work out. You know it’s 2011, not the late 1800s, which marked Yoga’s entry to the West. And it’s not the ‘60s with people running away to India. We have a lot we can contribute with this ancient technology and the modern knowledge that we have today. We live in a world now where Yoga maintains a position in the marketplace whether we like it or not. That presents a new opportunity to be of service and to explore what we can contribute.
IYM: Why do you think so many yogis struggle with what you called the “dynamic tension” between Yoga and business?
RG: I think they fail to recognize that there’s a real elegance and beauty in the marketplace and in engaging in business. I believe that the business environment—if one adopts it as a practice—can be deeply spiritual. As long as there have been human beings, we have related to each other through trade. That interaction—the way we meet another human, with the physical needs of the body, the openness of our hearts and energetic system—is where you get to really honor your values in terms of how much of your life is seva, how much you have to commit to earning for your family to live, how you are going to make trade-offs in your work environment in order for it to be a satisfying place to work.
The boundary between practicing Yoga and engaging in our work lives isn’t a sharp line. We approach that with structure and intention. Yoga is always first. If someone working at Yoga Yoga wants to take a Yoga class, they should go take a class and then get their work done. We have a lot of people who are attracted to working at Yoga Yoga because they practice Yoga. If we had an organization that insisted that you do your work first and then practice Yoga that would just be silly. We try to manage our growth so we’re able to work with the kind of people who are committed to what we are doing. We try to be cognizant of the balance between our hearts and our skills.
IYM: What can we learn about Yoga and marketing?
RG: My teacher, Yogi Bhajan, came to the US and said, “Come, I will teach you Yoga.” We went to him, learned and then he said, “Go get more of your friends, and I’ll teach them.” That is sales. From that, there are now hundreds of thousands of yogis now. Look at Pattabhi Jois’ Yoga Shala in Mysore—it is now an enterprise. The people who are successful extend themselves out into the marketplace so as to share this knowledge.
The main guiding principle by which we run Yoga Yoga calls on us to nurture the relationship between the student and teacher and the student and the teachings. Our effort is to support those two things. We need everybody at Yoga Yoga doing that. Our teachers need to be able to extend past their classes to help students make connections with the teachings. We need skilled professionals, skillful teachers who can teach and promote their classes and the teachings.
IYM: Yoga Yoga has been very successful, despite hard economic times. Why?
RG: If we don’t promote what we are doing, well, McDonald’s has a hamburger to sell you. [Laughs] What I’m saying is that there is highly skilled competition for people’s attention and commitment. So, we have placed our studios in very accessible areas, like shopping centers. We work hard to have brand recognition, and we use the same tools that other businesses use. We are at conferences to which businesses go, we’re on the radio, we continually finding ways to communicate our message about our services and to know how to be out there in the marketplace. You achieve success through the consistency of your message, the consistent quality of how you engage the marketplace, the way you pay your bills and how you provide your services. You tell someone how you love them by the way you talk, the food you give them, the flowers you bring—it’s not one thing. And it’s the same for business—good business is comprised of many things.
One of the things that drives us as an organization is that we wanted to be large enough to have a seat at the table of the societal conversation. In our town, for example, I sit on the mayor’s fitness council. I get to support our city in fostering health and I get to bring in my perspective because I’ve been willing to engage the marketplace in a particular way. And the way you engage is by making one Yoga center and being successful and then making another and doing it in a way that people and businesses in the community find accessible. Just as there are an unlimited number of people to whom McDonald’s can sell their hamburgers, there are an unlimited number of people to whom we can teach Yoga
IYM: There’s a conversation going on in the country as to whether Yoga is an avocation or profession.
RG: There are significant ramifications to that choice. Medical insurance companies aren’t going to reimburse avocations. I’m not saying what is the right or wrong choice. I think there are pros and cons each way. I can see the benefit of having no regulation on what we do in any way, shape or form. When a medical doctor wants to refer a patient to someone to help a hurt back, however, that doctor doesn’t have time to determine if Sally Jane can teach the right Yoga, so that doc is going to call a licensed physical therapist. That’s the reality.
We haven’t really engaged in this conversation seriously enough. I think the medical profession is desperate for our help. We have a health care system designed for acute, infectious disease. We have a world where we live with diseases that are chronic and related to our lifestyle choices. Those chronic issues are stress-centric. There’s an emerging body of evidence about the good job Yoga can do supporting people living with chronic diseases. I believe we, as a body of Yoga teachers, and as professionals, should be offering the marketplace our services.
IYM: How can Yoga teachers and therapists do that more?
RG: In our society, there’s a limit to how much use you can be if you can’t talk business or organization-speak. If the human resources manager can’t bring you in because you don’t know how to conduct yourself in a business or medical setting and that will reflect badly on that manager, then you’ve chosen to not participate in that realm. At Yoga Yoga, we’ve really focused on making ourselves and our organization accessible to people working in corporate, business and healthcare settings. One of our main jobs is to market ourselves in a way that lets them know that we have a technology available, with safe Yoga practices and that will be delivered professionally with quality and integrity. If I walk into a company and want to affect the health of 300 people in that company, who is the person who is going to decide if I get to do that and what do they need to know about me? They need to know it’s safe for me to be in that company. Our job is to bring safety, consistent quality and integrity in how we do business and to provide our services so we have an open door through which to bring health to people.
There has been a distinct change in the last ten to twenty years in how the world views Yoga. There’s no question in any thinking person’s mind—whether a CEO or medical doctor—because the research and evidence has shown that the mind and body are connected. Thirty years ago we had to talk to people about that, but we don’t have to anymore. So, we have to recognize that, let go of the past and step into relationship with a society that really wants what we uniquely have to offer. As Yoga teachers, we carry a body of knowledge, a model of health and well-being, that is very distinct from how health is generally talked about in our culture. I believe that gives us a responsibility to champion what we believe health is truly. Health isn’t the absence of disease. Health is a level of vitality, strength, integrity and capacity. That’s what we can bring into businesses and medical environments. I believe people are eager for us to do that.
We’re building companies in order to do that. I’m creating the Shanti Health Network which is beginning to vet and credential Yoga teachers and therapists so that, when a physician or business wants to know if this person can teach and can keep my patients safe, there’s an answer. Yoga teachers, massage therapist, acupuncturists all have a contribution to make to people’s health. Yet all these professions face the same challenges in the marketplace: People don’t understand the benefits of these services, and these services aren’t fully reimbursable.
So, we want to make Yoga, Yoga therapy and complimentary/integrative medicine more accessible to organizations. I’m of the opinion that a business can serve and be socially responsible and responsive. There’s a lot to do and a lot happening. We’ve got to work really hard to get enough Yoga professionals accessible to the medical profession. There’s no one who won’t benefit from a half hour of pranayama prior to surgery. I was at Harvard at a lifestyle health conference and I was talking with a cardiologist who places stents in arteries all day. He said he couldn’t really make much difference in people’s health. He’d operate on people and they’d come back again because the blockage had returned. But, we, as Yoga teachers, change people’s lives every day. I believe it’s important that we make ourselves of use to society. To live healthier and find acceptance for a healthy lifestyle is much easier today than it was years ago. This is our time. Yogi Bhajan talked about 2012 as a particular watershed time as many have done. Engaging the world as a yogi right now couldn’t be easier.
IYM: How important is Karma Yoga?
RG: In Yoga the word seva means selfless service. It is Karma Yoga, the Yoga of action. While we practice Yoga to make ourselves better, our real goal is to make the world better. So, from the very beginning and today, service to the community has played a significant role at Yoga Yoga. From donating Yoga classes to non-profit organizations to gathering food and toys for families and children in need to participating in fund-raising events for those with cancer, AIDS and other life-threatening diseases, Yoga Yoga’s students, staff and teachers practice the art of service in big and little ways every day. Over the years, Yoga Yoga has grown and so has our ability to serve the community. We see service as a great honor and responsibility. In the future, serving and giving back to the community will continue to be at the forefront of the work we do at Yoga Yoga.
For me personally, I have responded to the call of seva by helping to establish the Yoga Care Foundation (YCF), a non-profit organization that supports research, education, and community outreach around the benefits and practice of Yoga. Through this organization, we are able to award grants to Yoga teachers who want to share Yoga with underserved populations and contribute to scientific research in ways that support the advancement of Yoga. With the support of the Yoga Yoga community and other Yoga enthusiasts, the YCF is beginning to flourish. It’s exciting to see what can grow from the seeds of service.
Rich Goldstein (Raghurai), CEO of Yoga Yoga, has been practicing Yoga since 1981 and teaching Kundalini Yoga since 2001. He partnered with the Yoga Yoga founders in 2000 and has since taken the business from one Yoga studio to five, including the organization’s first Yoga wellness spa. Additionally he has developed Shanti Health Network, The Natural Epicurean (a training school for vegan, vegetarian, macrobiotic, Ayurvedic and raw cuisine chefs and educators) and the nonprofit Yoga Care Foundation, which supports research, education and community outreach around the benefits and practice of Yoga. For more information: www.yogayoga.com.